How Did The Legion Of Christ And Regnum Christi Become Associated With The Term Cult?

Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (I John 4, 1)

Very soon the Apostolic Visitation ordered by the Vatican will have delivered its reports to the competent authorities. The Visitation has been veiled in so much secrecy that nobody knows precisely what was being investigated in the first place. Cleaving to its mission of informing the public of the truth regarding the Legion of Christ and its Regnum Christi Movement ReGAIN has kept a safe distance from speculation.

The Official Legion stance has been of denial and minimization. After some hesitation the leadership moved quickly to separate the order from Founder Fr. Marcial Maciel and his scandalous life. It publicly stated that it welcomed the Vatican investigation as a confirmation of the Movement’s charism and a purification of its mission. Once again the Legion assumes the answers to the questions and presents them to its followers as foregone conclusions. But ReGAIN will not be satisfied with assumptions, foregone conclusions and platitudes. In this light it behooves us to read again

Cardinal Bertone’s Letter to Legion of Christ
Here is the letter Benedict XVI’s secretary of state sent March 10, 2009 to Father Alvaro Corcuera, the general director of the Legionaries of Christ, announcing an apostolic visitation to the congregation. It was released by the Legion 21 days later.

Reverend Father,

In this holy season of Lent, a time of grace and salvation, I am pleased to remember that many people benefit from the works of education and apostolate which the Legionaries of Christ carry out in various parts of the world, moved by your desire to establish Christ’s Kingdom according to the demands of justice and charity, among intellectuals, professional people and those engaged in teaching and social action.

Since this mission is of fundamental importance and is worth devoting oneself to with broadmindedness and an unsullied heart. I wish to let you as General Director know that in these delicate moments His Holiness Benedict XVI renews his solidarity with and prayers for the Legionaries of Christ, the members of Regnum Christi and those who are spiritually close to you.

The Holy Father is aware of the noble ideals that inspire you and the fortitude and prayerful spirit with which you are facing the current vicissitudes, and he encourages you to continue seeking the good of the Church and society by means of your own distinctive initiatives and institutions. In this regard, you can always count on the help of the Holy See, so that with truth and transparency, in a climate of fraternal and constructive dialogue, you will overcome the present difficulties. In this respect, the Holy Father has decided to carry out an Apostolic Visitation to the institutions of the Legionaries of Christ through a team of Prelates.

As I unite myself with the Holy Father’s sentiments, I entrust all Legionaries and Regnum Christi members to the motherly protection of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and I take the opportunity to express to you once more my best wishes and esteem in Christ.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone
Secretary of State to His Holiness

With the sins of the Founder acknowledged, even revealed, by the Legion itself, why an Apostolic Visitation? Were the Founder’s failings endemic to the institution? Can a depraved Founder create a holy religious order? How deep and extensive was the policy of lies and deceit of the Catholic faithful, of the members, of the Vatican and the Hierarchy? Who and how many were Maciel’s accomplices? Did his virus spread to the body politic of the Legion? Does the present Legion leadership continue to deceive and manipulate Catholics, the Hierarchy and its own members?

Former members, friends and relatives of active members have tried for decades to understand the Legion phenomenon. They have used a number of metaphors or paradigms to understand the peculiar features of the Legion and its Regnum Christi Movement. In the 1980s, a founding Irish member applied the “dysfunctional family” paradigm as a catch-all term after long analysis. In the early 1990s Fr. Peter Cronin enumerated what he considered the Legion’s cult-like features.

To counter these “attacks” Legion supporters have displayed a consistent tendency to argue that because of their Catholic Orthodoxy and their loyalty to the Pope they are definitely not a schismatic sect. From here they immediately jump to a conclusion that they are not a destructive cult. ReGAIN recognizes the need to clarify the difference between a sect and a cult. We wish to demonstrate that whereas there may be reasonable cause not to consider the Legion a sect this does not necessarily exclude the possibility of it being a (destructive) cult. We offer the following considerations and accompanying articles to assist those who are seeking to make an informed discernment about this topic


Sects VS Cults?

Since the 90s the leadership in the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi have had to dissociate the Movement from High Demand, High Control and Cultic Groups. Their spokesperson at the time, Jay Dunlap, tried to clear the air with his “thesis” article for Catholic Answers, This Rock, January, 2003.

Legionary arguments typically point out that they do not dissent from the Church’s teachings, do not promote heresy or schism and they are faithful to the Magisterium, all of which would indicate they are not a sect. They often tend to use the terms “sect” and “cult” almost interchangeably. They focus on their orthodoxy and loyalty to Rome. Most readers would agree that a “sect” is a group that has broken away from a mainstream Church or Religion to become a “schismatic” ” group or movement. Many people would agree with Mr. Dunlap and other Legionary leaders that the Legionaries and Regnum Christi do not obviously fit into this category.

When it comes to the term “cult” in the popular sense of a destructive group, ReGAIN has noticed that Legionary leaders have not presented convincing arguments to exclude the order from this classification. While it is true that there is some confusion over the definition of the term, there is much good information available from cult experts, including Steve Hassan, who makes a clear distinction between benign groups and destructive groups on his website.

He distinguishes between benign cult groups, where people are freely able to choose to join with full disclosure of the group’s doctrine and practices and can choose to disaffiliate without fear or harassment and groups that fall within the behavioral/ psychological destructive cult category.

Interestingly, in Mr. Dunlap’s referenced article he admits that there can be some “bad”, “cult-like” groups in the Church even though they appear to be faithful to the Magisterium but reject the local bishop’s authority.


Some Historical Background

The Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi “cult connection” began when former members, researchers and canon lawyers started to reflect on the Legion’s METHODOLOGY.

In its doctrine the Legion has always been quite Orthodox, close to the Magisterium, at least at face value, and Traditional, with a variety of all the usual catholic devotions such as the Rosary, Stations of the Cross and others. However, in the late ’90s, innuendos and theories began to question the Legion’s way of recruiting, retaining and releasing members; rumors had always existed around the founder’s personal life and about the Legion’s wealth, power and influence in the Vatican. In Mexico the order was called “The Millionaires of Christ” because of cultivating politicians and the upper echelons of that country’s very stratified society. Ex-seminarians went to the American media accusing Fr. Maciel of sexually abusing them and this, for some cult experts, smacked of the all-powerful abusing guru. Vows of Silence, a carefully researched report on Fr. Maciel and the Legion of Christ by religion reporters Jason Berry and Gerald Renner also caused a stir in the media and some Catholic circles.

Some cultic study experts began to hear drums pounding out the Legion’s name. The discussion was moving beyond the “disgruntled ex- members” so summarily dismissed by Legion believers. In June 2003, a Mexican cult specialist mentioned the Legion at the International Cultic Studies Association’s Annual Conference in California. Mr. Dunlap took executive director, Michael Langone, PhD, to task for allowing the Legion’s name to be mentioned in such a context. When in October of the same year, two former Legionaries, Juan Jose Vaca and Paul Lennon, were invited to deliver a critique of the Legion at the Enfield, CT conference, Mr. Dunlap, the Legion spokesperson, strenuously opposed it and tried to prevent the former members from reading their papers. This concerted effort by the Legion to pressure Dr. Langone made him reflect on the Legion. In order to “justify” the inclusion of the two former Legionaries in the conference he read an introductory paper to explain the association’s position. He continued to reflect on the Legion and Regnum phenomenon and his thoughts are now part of “the literature” . His thoughts are fleshed out in the article:Reflections on the Legion of Christ: 2003-2006 Michael D. Langone, Ph.D.


Father Peter Cronin & Cult Check List

Another very important contribution to the analysis of the Legion and Regnum came from a former member who remained a respected, happy and successful priest, Rev. Peter Cronin. His 1990s “testimony” was pivotal for many Catholics. Legion defenders could not dismiss Fr. Cronin, a beloved pastor in the archdiocese of Washington DC as a “disgruntled old man”, “enemy of the Church and the Catholic priesthood”, or “full of bitterness, hatred and envy”.

Fr. Peter was the first one to document what he saw as the Legion’s cult-like features.Fr. Peter Cronin: Legion of Christ as a Cult-like Organization which we will post separately in its entirety.
Fr. Peter Cronin: Legion of Christ as Cult-like Organization

From here there is just a step to looking at Fr. Maciel’s “Movement” through the cult lenses.


Cult Checklist

  1. The group is focused on a living leader to whom members seem to display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment.
  2. The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
  3. The group is preoccupied with making money.
  4. Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
  5. Mind-numbing techniques [such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines] are used to suppress doubts about the group and its leader[s].
  6. The leadership dictates -sometimes in great detail- how members should think, act and feel [for example: members must get permission from leaders to date, change jobs, get married; leaders may prescribe what type of clothes to wear, where to live, how to discipline children, and so forth].
  7. The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leaders and members [for example: the leader is considered the Messiah, or an avatar; the group and/or the leader have a special mission to save humanity].
  8. The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which causes conflict with the wider society.
  9. The group’s leader is not accountable to any authorities [as are, for example, military commanders and ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream denominations]. The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify means that members would have considered unethical before joining the group [for example: collecting money for bogus charities].
  10. The leadership induces feeling of guilt in members in order to control them.
  11. Members’ subservience to the group causes them to cut ties with family, friends, and personal group goals and activities that were of interest before joining the group.
  12. Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group.
  13. Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members. (This list was composed a couple of decades ago and has become a classic, widely quoted, as in Captive Hearts, Captive Minds, Freedom and Recovery from Cults and Abusive Relationships by Landau-Tobias & Lalich, Hunter Press, 1994, Appendix, pp 276-7)

It is up to each prospective member, current or past member or family member of someone deeply entrenched to discern for themselves. The checklist is a powerful tool in evaluating any group that is suspected of being a destructive cult.


Pete Vere’s Insights

One of the very few Catholic thinkers to pick up on the possibility of a Catholic Sect or Cults is Peter Vere. In the summer of 2004 he presented some of his insights at the International Cultic Studies Association international conference in Atlanta. Peter, a friend of Catholic Exchange, was certainly a Catholic “insider” and could not be tarred with the same stick as former members with a chip on their shoulders and of dubious Orthodoxy. Although Pete Vere does not mention the Legion, one could say that withSifting the Wheat from the Tares: 20 Signs of Trouble in a New Religious Group he scuttles many of Jay Dunlap’s denials. In March 21, 2005, he carved out for himself a place in the Catholic New Religious Group/Movement discussion. His is a must read for the informed student, parent, or candidate and is posted separately:

Banning of Legion and Regnum Christi by Bishops and Archbishops

In an unusual step, several bishops and archbishops have publicly objected to Legion and Regnum Christi methods. The Legion and Regnum have been banned in at least seven American dioceses.

American Papist Article October 30th, 2009:

I’ve been trying to compile a list of other arch/dioceses which have taken similar measures against LC or RC (either banning them or restricting their access to diocesan property, etc). John Allen names seven, and I’ll add two others:

Baltimore, St. Paul-Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Baton Rouge, Richmond, Fort Wayne-South Bend, Columbus, Miami, Seattle. Some other prelates’ objections are common knowledge.

Archbishop Collins of Toronto called for a massive Legion overhaul in a public statement on March 24, 2009. When the interviewer asked him about excessive veneration of the founder and if there was too much emphasis on him, Archbishop Collins said that this is a major problem. “When you get a cult of personality that is over the top” and later added that “even in legitimate groups where it turns out the founder is a perfectly good person, the group should tone down the cult of personality”.

Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, asked for an “intervention” on the Legion

The most outspoken, clear and eloquent critic of the Legion and Regnum has been Archbishop O’Brien of Baltimore. His call for a review of the Legion of Christ alludes to certain dangerous cult-like features. We include one of the many articles describing the Archbishop’s criticism. We cite a report in the archdiocese’ The Catholic Review, February 25, 2009, Archbishop O’Brien Raised Concerns about Legion of Christ:

It would seem that such episcopal concerns, together with the whole “Maciel scandal” , has led to the Vatican Visitation/Investigation into the Legion announced in March, 2009 and launched last July.


Critique of Regnum Christi

Last but not least, we would like to present an in-depth critique of the Regnum Christi. Decades have passed since Fr. Cronin’s discovery of those cult-like features. Today the father of a consecrated member presents a brand new study based on decades of experience with his daughter, her superiors, and the organization: Mind Control Techniques Used by Regnum Christi

ReGAIN staff believes that the above evidence makes a strong case for identifying both the Legionaries of Christ and the associated Regnum Christi Movement as destructive cult groups. This opinion is not based solely on what others say about these groups. Many of the men and women with past and present association with the ReGAIN family have endured damaging personal experiences and most are in an ongoing recovery process. Our conclusion is that that the cat is out of the bag re the Legion as a controversial High Demand religious order characterized by information control, isolation from family and friends, secrecy, persuasive “Spiritual Direction” and other potentially dangerous methods.

ReGAIN, INC. hopes these articles will help members and “outsiders” better understand the true nature of the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement and thus make more informed decisions regarding investment of time, energy, financial resources, and emotional and spiritual involvement.

We also know that the Son of God has come and the Holy Spirit has given us discernment to know the One who is true. And we are in the one who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

Children, be on your guard against idols.
(1 John 5, 20-21, USCCB-NAB)

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